BGS responds to Adult Social Care Winter Plan

As the country approaches winter and an almost-certain second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the British Geriatrics Society is relieved to see the Government taking action to provide additional support to care homes and other social care providers in England.

Older people have borne the brunt of this pandemic. It was clear from the early days of the pandemic that care homes were not receiving the support they needed in terms of protective equipment, staff training, access to testing and infection management to ensure their residents were safely cared for. We remain concerned about support to care homes as the second COVID wave threatens to be worse than the first, particularly when combined with the usual illnesses brought about by winter.

The Adult Social Care Plan includes welcome measures to minimise spread of infection between care homes, including supporting staff to enable them to work in one care home only and supporting staff with transport costs to minimise their use of public transport. As this is put into practice, it will be important to ensure that care homes remain adequately staffed and care workers, already among the lowest paid, are not left out of pocket. Care homes and other social care organisations will also welcome free access to personal protective equipment over the winter months. Good supply chains will need to be in place to enable easy and quick access to the necessary equipment.

We are pleased to see a requirement that patients being discharged to care homes must be tested prior to discharge from hospital and the results must be made available. It will be important to ensure that care homes are not put under undue pressure to accept COVID-positive patients from hospital, and that they are supported to provide adequate accommodation and isolation facilities for residents returning from hospital. The success of the winter plan will fundamentally depend upon ready availability of COVID testing to care home residents and staff. Work to ensure that tests can be turned around rapidly, and the results conveyed to care homes, should be an immediate priority.

We welcome the new role of Chief Nurse for Social Care and urge the Government to proceed speedily with recruitment for this role. We look forward to working with the new postholder in the very near future.

Professor Tahir Masud, President of the British Geriatrics Society, said:

Any steps to minimise the impact of COVID-19 for older people and particularly for care home residents are of course welcome – it is essential that we avoid a repeat of the devastating scenes we saw in the early weeks of the pandemic. We are concerned about the impact of a second wave of the pandemic combined with the impact of winter and hope that this plan will go some way to helping to support those who need it most over the winter. However, it is difficult to know at this stage whether these measures will be sufficient. We urge the Government to keep the impact of social care under review over the winter months and take further action as needed. This plan is of course no substitute for a sustainable social care system in the long term, something this Government has promised repeatedly. We urge the Government to ensure that this remains a priority and a new social care system is announced as soon as possible."